Deputy Head of Unit Media Convergence and Social Media, DG CONNECT, European Commission,
Questrom Professor, Boston University; Digital Fellow, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy,
Managing Director for EU Affairs and Head of Brussels office, Facebook,
European Affairs Journalist, Euronews,
video & audio recordings
Presentation by Marshall van Alstyne
With the revealed tendency of people to spread fake news, false stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted than the true ones. Fake news is not a new phenomenon. Fake information has been around for a long time. For instance, studies proved that there was a substantial rise in the spread of the fake news during the Second World War with different parties trying to put others on the wrong track through the spread of misleading stories. However, until recently fake news has not received enough attention from the public. Various authorities got alarmed when we saw the impact fake news might have on some major events such as Brexit and U.S. election. Traditional channels of information transmission turned to be not sufficient with the rising need in the alternative sources of information.
Before turning to the discussion on what should be done with fake news, it is of vital importance to understand why it can be a problem and more broadly to provide a clear definition of what is fake news. Is it about misinformation or falsehood? Can we say that fake news has to do with propaganda? Is it about intentional controversy or unintentional error? Why fake news is a problem? Fake news appears to be a significant issue for at least three reasons. First of all, it might lead to decision errors as people rely on false information. Secondly, it supports formation of balkanized society with pro and anti-Brexit, abortion etc. Lastly, fake news might lead to a third-party harm. An illustration of the latter is Russian hacker who by publishing fake news on state run Qatar news site, inflamed diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia. Clearly, given those examples, a new system of safeguards is highly desirable.
To find appropriate solution to the existing issue with the fake news an important question to answer is what the root cause of this phenomenon is. What drives people to share fake news? Indisputably, while some individuals can engage in the spread of fake news for fun and profit, others use it to influence votes, opinions and ideology. At the same time, standard solutions, which are taxing bad behavior, crowdsourcing truth, banning trolls, rarely address the underlying causes as the issue of proper incentives arises and sources and shares are not inclined to change the behavior. Hence relevant solutions should focus on publicly applying friction to communication of agents who share false information and voiding the offending trade secret that gives rise to a negative externality.
Event notes by Yana Myachenkova, Research assistant